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Harper welcomes troops home from Afghanistan, declares May 9 a day of honour

The last Canadian soldiers to leave Afghanistan arrived home on Tuesday to tears, hugs from family and friends and a pledge from Stephen Harper that May 9 will be set aside to honour their contributions and sacrifices.

“On that day, Canada will recognize those who fought, remember those who fell and salute all who contributed to this 10-year mission,” the prime minister said as he welcomed home the last 93 soldiers.

“We will stand together and honour the strength of our men and women in uniform, we will honour the strength of the Canadian families who faced heart-wrenching loss, (and) we will honour the strength of our communities that supported them.”

The final contingent of troops from Afghanistan flew in to Ottawa aboard a C-17 transport plane, escorted by a pair of CF-18 fighter jets.

They filed off the plane to a receiving line that included Harper, Gov. Gen. David Johnston and Gen. Tom Lawson, the chief of the defence staff.

They then moved into a cavernous hangar to hugs and kisses from loved ones and a hearty welcome home from Johnston, who praised them as “ambassadors, peacekeepers, protectors and rebuilders of civil society.”

“Welcome, home,” Johnston said.

Harper echoed that sentiment: “All Canadians join with me to say welcome home and job well done.”

The Canadians formally lowered their flag in Kabul last week, marking the end of a mission that began with the deployment of a handful of special forces soldiers in late 2001. Since then, thousands of Canadian soldiers rotated through Afghanistan in what Harper called “the longest active military engagement in Canadian history.”

They fought pitched battles against the Taliban and braved the ever-present threat of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, while trying to build schools, roads and other infrastructure in the perilous southern province of Kandahar.

Following the end of the combat mission in 2011, a contingent of Canadian soldiers were assigned to the capital city of Kabul to assist in training members of the Afghan military.

In addition to the 158 members of the Canadian military who died, a Canadian diplomat, a journalist and two civilian contractors were also killed over the course of the mission.